Monday, October 10, 2016

Valencia County Observations

I'm in New Mexico for a week, enjoying some time observing life in the place where I grew up. Here are some of the moments that have stood out to me about Los Lunas and Valencia County, the place where my dad calls home:

This is a rural area about an hour south of Albuquerque. The scenery is serene and classically New Mexican: wide open fields of hay and corn, grandiose cottonwoods whose leaves have started turning yellow with the changing seasons, chile roasting on street corners, and dusty mountains in the distance. In the middle of this all runs the Rio Grande, currently a small trickle because so much water has been diverted into the irrigation ditches that criss-cross the landscape. The people here are connected to the land, to family, to tradition.

Driving around I am struck by the billboards along Highway 47, which fall into a few main themes:

- DWI (You can't afford it!)
- Anti Domestic Abuse (Elders and children are our heritage, our future!)
- Pro-Life propaganda (My heart beats 18 days after conception!)
- Personal Injury Lawyers
- Military Recruitment
- Indian Casinos

Tells you a lot about the problems people face and the values they hold...

As I write this I am sitting in a café in Los Lunas (the main town around these parts) that is part coffee shop, part Christian bookstore / religious supplies, and part guitar store. It is the closest wifi to my dad's house (he has no internet and my cell signal is practically nonexistent) so if I want to check email or blog or do some work, I come here.

Culture shock is an understatement. Not only is there all the religious paraphernalia and "church people" vibe from the staff and patrons, there is the political aspect. The people here like their guns. Next to the coffee creamer is an advertisement for Concealed Carry Training. I just overheard someone talk about how Obama was the best thing ever for gun and ammo sales, that they skyrocketed because of him. Another table over there is a guy loudly voicing his support for Trump and calling Bernie Sanders supporters "sheeple" for now supporting Hilary. He's all about the government conspiracies, too, talking about 9/11 being an inside job and how he just bought a $2,000 end-of-the-world survival kit because shit is going to go down.

The scary part to me is that everyone who walks in and overhears these conversations in progress jumps in and is in agreement! Guns and Trump and anti-Obama and God are the anthem over here! It makes me reconsider where I am spending my $7 for coffee and a breakfast burrito, but then again there's no guarantee that the owner of Starbucks on the far side of town (the other wifi option) is not cut from the same cloth, even though the corporate aspect of the place might suggest neutrality.

I don't identify with Valencia County as being home (I lived with my mom in Albuquerque from ages 5 to 15), but my dad has always been here so it is familiar and full of memories. Since my mom moved to California over a decade ago, my dad's house is now my base when I come to New Mexico. While I appreciate the hospitality he and his wife extend to me, I am struck by how anthropological these visits feel. I am definitely an outsider, observing "the other," gaining heightened perception of my own views and values as a result of the contrasts.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

My Dance Story

All I want to do lately is dance salsa, bachata and kizomba. It's definitely been my remedy these past several months, the activity that has allowed me to find myself and connect with others amid great transition in my life. 

There is something uniquely special about partner dancing. You are given the opportunity to connect physically and energetically with another person (often a complete stranger). You have to relax into each other and find a common language of movement and flow. It's spontaneous and intuitive, expressive and intimate. It is an exercise in trust and vulnerability and being in the moment. And at its best, dancing feels like falling in love - a euphoric suspension of space and time, where all that exist are you and this other person moving together through the world.

I first danced salsa when I was in college in Albuquerque. We would have these glorious house parties attended by friends from all corners of Latin America. Someone would throw on a mix cd and we'd all dance into the wee hours of the morning. I didn't exactly know what I was doing, but it was always a damn good time.

Then I got a boyfriend who didn't enjoy dancing. He was also a jealous type, so I shifted from partner dancing to taking cardio-salsa classes at the gym. I got in shape and met many incredible women in the process, but didn't really register that I had abandoned something that sparked great joy for me.

In the time between college and now, I had the strange luck become involved almost exclusively with people that weren't into dancing. Rather than push someone to take up an activity they found akin to pulling teeth, I dove deep into the world of solo dance to satisfy my passion. I discovered Nia in Austin, did samba de passarela in Brazil, learned all sorts of fun moves in Mozambique, and eventually found my home crew of ladies at Hipline in Oakland. Dance has been a constant in my life, but moving your body solo (albeit in a room full of other people) is a different animal from dancing with another person.

It took me fifteen years to return to partner dancing. Fifteen years!!! Better late than never, though, right? Actually I returned somewhat by chance. At the beginning of this year, as I was planning a trip to Gorizia, the small city in northeastern Italy where my maternal grandmother was from, I had a strong desire to do something different, to meet new people. I've been visiting this place of my roots since I was a child, but always the trips were centered around my grandmother: who she knew, who she wanted to visit, how she wanted to spend her time. I have some childhood friends in the area who I enjoy spending time with, but I really wanted to break out of my family's circle of influence and find an expanded social scene.

I randomly googled "zumba Gorizia" thinking I'd find a gym with some cardio dance classes. I came across Arte Dance Studio and messaged them to see if I could take a bunch of different classes for the two weeks I'd be in town. They were super receptive to my request and welcomed me with open arms. I took zumba, modern dance, pilates, piloxing, and something called Latino Base. I showed up to the latter imagining a class akin to zumba; instead I found myself smack in the middle of a salsa and bachata dance course with no partner, no knowledge of the moves everyone had been practicing for the past several weeks, and sweaty palms.

It didn't matter. The instructors Marco and his wife Mikki welcomed me with open arms. They allowed me to jump right in and made me feel like part of the group despite my language and dance limitations. With them I was introduced to cuban-style salsa and moves like dile que no, enchufla, setenta, and all manner of variations on the vuelta (turn). Classes were a funny mix of Italian and Spanish, with students a mix of Italians and Slovenes. I felt as if I'd finally found my people.

About a month after that experience, I found myself in Playa del Carmen, Mexico with my best friend Angel. We were looking for a spot to grab a bite to eat and go dance, and a local friend recommended La Bodeguita del Medio, a Cuban restaurant that has apparently franchised in other locations (I went to the original location in La Habana with my mom back in 2000). It was pretty quiet when Angel and I arrived, but there was a live band with salsa music and I ended up dancing with our server for much of the evening (I guess dancing is part of the job description?). I had tons of fun, and vowed to find some lessons and keep dancing upon my return to the Bay Area.

The first time I went to Allegro, a dance school in Emeryville, was with Rico's mom. Sort of strange to go to a dance social with your ex-mother-in-law, but we are friends and enjoy hanging out, and she was interested in taking a salsa class. So we hit the beginner lesson, then I stayed for the intermediate one and the open dance afterwards. Honestly it wasn't the best experience - I got stuck dancing with a creepy, overly-touchy dude and sadly was not practiced at setting boundaries or making the great escape after one dance - but live and learn, right?

Despite the slight trauma, I knew I'd be back, and this has been my go-to place for dancing for the last five months. I've gone way up the learning curve in salsa, and added bachata and kizomba to my repertoire. Actually kizomba has become my favorite - it's a dance originally from Angola that is slow, sensual, and deceptively simple. You basically embrace your partner, with chests and belly buttons touching (no contact below the belt, though!), and then proceed to "walk" in very close proximity to different rhythms. There is no clear pattern to the steps, which makes it impossible to predict what's next - and therefore as a follower it is impossible to back-lead.

That's one of my main objectives in dance, actually: to be a good follower. It means relaxing, connecting with your partner, and not anticipating or forcing any of the moves according to your own agenda. Harder than it sounds, especially after so many years of dancing by myself. It's quite different from the ultra-independent role I have in my "regular" life, and the balance and lessons to be gained are not lost on me.

My 35th birthday is in a couple weeks and as a gift to myself, I got private lessons with Isabel, one of the instructors from Allegro. I want to be sure I have good habits and know my basic footwork before proceeding much further down this dance path. Much better to build on a solid foundation as opposed to one that is flawed.

I have plans to dance salsa and kizomba in Albuquerque, Houston, and Mexico this coming month as I embark on yet another travel adventure. Here's to meeting more lovely people and learning some new moves. See y'all on the dance floor!

Monday, September 05, 2016

Lines and Curves

Lines and curves, about to get on a plane. Headed to Italy but Niemeyer on the brain. //

Linhas e curvas, indo pegar um avião. Rumo à Itália mas com Niemeyer na cabeça.


It has been such a long time since I wrote a poem. My dad is an incredible poet. I found that out a few months ago.

Now, apparently, the inspiration has passed through to me. In a rhyme, which typically I hate. But I was thinking of poetry after a particularly time-warp evening of dancing, and then upon seeing my reflection with the piano and multiple doors and books, the words came to me.

I am traveling later today, to Italy, with my mom. We will be working on my grandma's house and affairs. And I will dance! More soon.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016


 Quality assurance try-on before delivery of a client's heirloom necklace and earrings I built out with gemstone drops.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Pop-Up Recap

Carolyn and I had a great pop-up on Saturday, attended by friends, family, and lots of new faces. Thank you to everyone who came out.

I'm emerging from a period of severe burn-out, and it's a welcome feeling to want to be in that space again, to want to show my work again. I am particularly excited about how the gallery is looking these days. Lots of color and flowers and patterns and texture. And finally the mix of paintings and jewelry is making sense. A final bonus is that Carolyn's jewelry mixes in so well with my paintings, and complements the assortment of wearable pieces that I have in stock as well. Yay all around.

Here are some photos from the beginning of the pop-up, with everything nicely displayed and ready for visitors.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Road Trip to Arizona and Nevada with My Mama

A couple weeks ago my mom and I took a road trip starting in the Bay Area and passing through some of the most beautiful deserts and mountains in the Western US. We needed to clean out a storage unit (of unknown contents) that my grandmother had in Flagstaff, as well as take care of some of her affairs there, so we decided to make an adventure of it and take the scenic route. Here are some highlights:

The Colorado River appears like an oasis along the California-Arizona state line, with the Needles mountains in the background.

My grandmother owned an apartment building in Flagstaff and at some point the property manager commissioned a local artist to paint a mural to ward off vandalization. I love the imagery and colors.

So far the mural strategy has worked, because there is no tagging and people have respected the art.

Here is the storage unit we had to clean out. My mom was hoping it would be empty (fat chance knowing what a packrat my grandmother was!) and I was expecting it to be full...but not exactly *this* full. What a nightmare. Stuff was all jumbled up, in various states of damage (there had been water, bats, and rats in the unit at some point from the looks of things), and most of it wasn't "worth" hanging onto in the first place. Happily we did find a few family treasures, and there were a lot of throwback items to my mom's childhood...but mostly it was books and old clothes and a lot of junk. My mom and I spent a lot of time sorting what to keep, what to donate, and what to throw away. Sadly in the end the charity shop rejected the donation pile so everything we didn't keep went into the landfill. What a lesson...

At least we got in some quality outdoor time while in Flagstaff. There was a walking path right outside our hotel room that crossed through ponderosa pine forests and open meadows full of wildflowers and lava rocks. Beautiful!

There's nothing quite like the clear air of the mountains. Big sky, sunshine, and the afternoon monsoon. Made me miss my homeland of New Mexico (although I'll be there next month for a visit, yay!)

On the way from Flagstaff to Tonopah, Nevada we passed by the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. Really stunning scenery to see that big body of water amid such an arid landscape.

We walked across a highway bridge to get a view of the dam, which was worth it despite the 106 degree weather and strong winds.

A convenience store and rest stop in the middle of nowhere in Nevada. There was a brothel behind this building, by the way. No big deal, business as usual!

In Tonopah we stayed at the (supposedly haunted) Mizpah Hotel. I didn't experience any ghost encounters but the place was definitely like being in a time warp.

I had fun sketching one of the big chandeliers in the lounge while waiting for our dinner.

From Nevada we crossed back into California and drove on some very hilly highways and over some major mountain summits. It was a massively scenic stretch, including Mono Lake (above) and Monitor Pass (below).

It was a long, hot, tiring but fun trip. Definitely the kind that is better with company, and I'm happy to report that my mom is an excellent road trip companion. Maybe we'll do another one next year (although without the storage unit!!).

Monday, August 22, 2016

Invisalign Day Five

After five days of wearing invisalign, I feel slightly better than I did on day one. The hardest part is the social aspect of not being able to go out for extended eats and drinks. I also miss nursing a coffee in the morning, and having snacks throughout the day. Although in some ways, invisalign is the willpower I never had regarding food, so I am developing better habits and eating when I'm truly hungry as opposed to when I'm bored, lonely, anxious, procrastinating, or simply because it's there.

My mouth is a bit sore and my tongue is a little cut up, but nothing compared to the agony of metal braces. I've been really diligent about brushing and cleaning both my teeth and the aligners, so no complaints there (some people have issues with the trays becoming cloudy or gross). I've been using Dawn dish soap to scrub them, which seems to work quite well and is cheap and easy. My final complaint is that I still lisp a little bit, but it seems like others don't notice it the way I do.

To compensate for the self-consciousness of having weird stuff on my teeth and a small speech impediment, I got a haircut and have been ramping up the workouts and taking the time to do my makeup (no lipstick, though!! NOT compatible with invisalign). So I'm feeling fly and also feeling like such the ugly duckling. A funny combination, for sure...

Here's hoping I get more and more used to this.